gfiles magazine

June 13, 2011

Mandarins face the heat—finally!

Mandarins face the heat—finally!
Sermonizing is all very well, but only concrete steps can stem the rot


PRIME Minister Manmohan Singh is yet again on a sermonizing spree with regard to corruption. His latest was on Civil Services Day: “Corruption is an impediment to faster growth, and hurts the poor most. It is a challenge that we must tackle boldly and we stand committed to doing so.” He added, “There is little public tolerance now for the prevailing state of affairs. People expect swift and exemplary action and rightly so” and “Our aim is to strengthen the legislative framework, revamp administrative practices and procedures and fast-track a systemic response to fighting corruption.”
The venerable doctor has been in the saddle for the past seven years –more than a political leader can hope for. Yet, he has just started “fast-tracking a systemic response to fighting corruption”.
That too, with much reluctance after getting prodded by the force of public opinion. “A committee of Ministers and representatives of civil society is at work to finalize the draft of a Lokpal Bill which we hope to be able to introduce during the monsoon session of Parliament,” according to the Prime Minister. This, 43 years after the introduction of the original Lokpal Bill in Parliament (1968). That was the year I entered the IAS after my Army stint and I am long retired! Even this slowest-ever “fast-tracking” is being side-tracked by his Man Friday, Kapil Sibal, with his propensity for bluff and bluster. It is doubtful if the Anna Hazare-driven Lokpal Bill will ever see the light of day in its original form.

Mukherjee’s move follows the CBI’s discovery that retired civil servants like former TRAI chairman Baijal were connected with companies dealing with the telecom sector.

Further, the PMO’s shenanigans vis-à-vis the CWG scam, the 2G loot, the ISRO Devas racket, the Prasar Bharati sleaze, the CVC fiasco, the Rajat Gupta largesse, Chatwal’s Padma Bhushan and the reprehensible PAC ruckus to protect top officials remain unexplained.
A parallel to all this can be perceived in Christianity, known for beautiful sermons. The Sermon on the Mount is the most poignant and prominent among these, especially the three Beatitudes that convey the essence of Christianity: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, they shall be filled”; “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” and “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” These are recanted by the priests, pastors and bishops of the Church who also sermonize on Jesus’ teachings emphasising the core Christian values of humility, simplicity, honesty, and piety.
But what they do in practice is often just the reverse. As a result, there is corruption, mismanagement of assets, properties and finances, and abuse of power by priests, pastors and bishops. This has led to major scandals and even crimes. There is a strong streak of materialism and greed which is violative of the basic tenets of Christianity and there is no law or institution to rein them in.
Yet, our sermonizing Prime Minister deserves compliments for some positive action, notably, ratifying the United Nations Convention against Corruption that has been pending for nearly eight years. According to him, “The ratification is a reaffirmation of our government’s commitment to fight corruption and to undertake vigorously administrative/ legal reforms to enable our law enforcement agencies to recover the illicit assets stolen by corrupt practices.”
Some more positive action can be seen in Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee getting set to let loose the proverbial bull in the china shop and crying a halt to large-scale “collusive corruption” among manipulative and manoeuvring mandarins. With half-a-dozen senior civil servants already in prison, it may now be the turn of retired bureaucrats to lose sleep.
Wounded deeply by a plethora of corruption charges against its political leaders and Ministers, the government is likely to launch a serious probe against more than 150 retired civilians who have taken up direct or indirect jobs with India Inc and multinationals operating in India.
The Empowered Group of Ministers headed by Mukherjee is toying with the idea of instructing investigative agencies to probe the wealth and income of the former bureaucrats who are consultants, advisers or members on various boards or have opened their own consultancy companies.
Mukherjee’s move follows the CBI’s discovery that many retired civil servants like former TRAI chairman Pradeep Baijal and former Telecom Secretary VS Mathur were connected with various companies dealing with the telecom sector.
The probe will not be limited to ex-IAS officers. Nearly a dozen retired senior IFS officials, 18 ex-chiefs and directors of Public Sector Undertakings and around six former IPS officials will also be investigated.
Though none of them faced corruption charges in service, the government has decided that officers who retired from Ministries like Finance, Civil Aviation, Surface Transport, External Affairs, Petroelum, Tele-Communications, Public Sector Banks, Commerce and Defence will come under the scanner. The agencies have already started screening the names of top executives of corporations dealing with infrastructure, real estate, power, mining, steel and aviation.
THOUGH the government is yet to finalise the modalities, various agencies like the CBI, CVC, Enforcement Directorate and the Income Tax Department will be asked to collate information and forward it to the Special Investigation Team that has been set up following the Supreme Court intervention on black money.
This is a laudable effort, but should also extend to mid-career officers at the Centre and States who join lucrative private jobs with huge pay or perks. This is obviously part of a quid pro quo and is the outcome of the government’s efforts to mortgage core sectors like roads, telecom, power, banking, insurance, real estate, aviation, mining and so on to corporates and multinationals. The fallout is virtual privatization of India’s administrative system, licentiousness in the civil services and abandonment of governance virtues.
In the event, greed has set in at all levels of government with the manifesting stink and rot. Sermons cannot stem this stink, only decisive action can.

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